History Articles

History of the Holidays

August 23, 2005 / 0 Comments
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History of the HolidaysHISTORY OF THE HOLIDAYS

Welcome to this year’s edition of the History of the Holidays. I’m Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian. From now through the Spring or vernal equinox, we celebrate most of the major secular and sacred holidays. This is a series that recounts the history behind the major American holidays, some of the minor ones, and a few international ones as well.

Sacred and Secular

Many of the sacred holidays in our American “Judeo-Christian” heritage have secular associations, while many of the seemingly secular holidays actually have religious roots.

One example of the mixture of sacred and secular was that in ancient Rome the death and resurrection of Attis, the god of vegetation, was celebrated on March 24 and 25, corresponding to the vernal equinox.
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Future of the Moon

August 2, 2005 / 0 Comments
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FUTURE OF THE MOON

As a follow-up to my article commemorating landing on the moon in 1969, there is an interesting site here that shows what it will look like in the future:

In honor of the first manned Moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969, we’ve added some NASA imagery to the Google Maps interface to help you pay your own visit to our celestial neighbor. Happy lunar surfing.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood futurist
www.billpetro.com

History of the 4th: Thomas Jefferson

June 30, 2005 / 0 Comments
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HISTORY OF THE 4th OF JULY: THOMAS JEFFERSON

Perhaps no one person is more associated with the 4th of July in American History than Thomas Jefferson, probably because he penned the immortal Declaration of Independence.

As my friend Clay Jenkinson says in his book Thomas Jefferson: Man of Light, “The Third President is the Muse of American life, the chief articulator of our national value system and our national self-identity. Jefferson was a man of almost unbelievable achievement: statesman, man of letters, architect, scientist, book collector, political strategist, and utopian visionary. But he is also a man of paradox: liberty-loving slaveholder, Indian-loving relocationist, publicly frugal and privately bankrupt, a constitutional conservative who bought the Louisiana Territory in 1803.” Even by 1782, as an admiring French visitor observed, Jefferson, “without having quitted his own country,” had become “an American who … is a musician, draftsman, astronomer, natural philosopher, jurist and a statesman.” He knew about crop rotation, Renaissance architecture, could dance a jig, play the fiddle, or tie an artery.

Though friends in their youth, disagreements separated Thomas Jefferson and our second President John Adams in later years. They were eventually reconciled toward their twilight years and though they never saw each other again after Adams left the White House to be replaced by Jefferson, in the last 14 years of their lives they exchanged 156 letters, some of them quite warm. This correspondence is generally regarded as the intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation and the most impressive correspondence between prominent statesmen.

They both died on the same day, July 4th, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, two of the last three signers. At the age of 91 John Adams collapsed in his favorite reading chair and died that afternoon, his last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” But Jefferson would have said “wrong, as usual.” In his last days his health had failed and he passed in and out of consciousness. On the 4th of July, 1826 just a few hours before Adams died — in his home in Monticello, Virginia — surrounded by his daughter and some special slaves, shortly after noon, at the age of 83, Thomas Jefferson died. His last words were, “Is it the 4th?”

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

Read more at: http://www.th-jefferson.org/home.html

History of Independence Day

June 29, 2005 / 0 Comments
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HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE DAY

The 4th of July, named after Pope Julius IV… sorry, wrong file.


Independence Day, or the Fourth of July is the adoption by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, of the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the severance of the allegiance of the American colonies to Great Britain. It is the greatest secular holiday of the United States, observed in all the states, territories and dependencies.

Although it is assumed that the Continental Congress unanimously signed the document on the 4th of July, in fact not all delegates were present and there were no signers at all. Here is what really happened.

The congressional delegate from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, introduced in the Continental Congress, on June 7, 1776, a resolution “that…body declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from allegiance to or dependence on the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain…” On June 10 a committee of five, headed by Thomas Jefferson (the actual writer), was appointed to prepare a declaration suitable to the occasion in the event that the Virginia resolution was adopted. Jefferson’s version was revised by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams before it went to the Congress where they did some editing of their own.

Congress approved the resolution July 2; the declaration composed by Jefferson and amended by his committee was adopted July 4. That evening John Hancock ordered Philadelphia printer John Dunlap to print 200 broadside copies of the agreed upon Declaration that was signed by him as President and Charles Thomson as Secretary. These were distributed to members of the Congress and distributed to the 13 colonies and elsewhere. The Declaration was read in the yard of the state house July 8. New York did not even vote on it until July 9. The signing was even more gradual, and it is somewhat misleading to speak of the “fifty-six original signers of the Declaration of Independence”.

By August 6, most of those whose names are on the document had signed, but at least six signatures were attached later. One signer, Thomas McKean did not attach his name until 1781! Some of those who signed were not even in Congress when the Declaration was adopted, and some who voted for it in Congress never did get around to signing it. Robert R. Livingston was one of the committee of five; he helped to frame it; he voted for it; and he never signed it.

The first anniversary of the declaration was observed only in Philadelphia, Pa., by the adjournment of Congress, a ceremonial dinner, bonfires, the ringing of bells and fireworks. In 1788, after the requisite number of states had adopted the constitution, Philadelphia celebrated July 4 by elaborate festivities, including a grand procession.

Boston, Mass., first observed the day in 1783, and thereafter this celebration replaced that of the Boston Massacre, March 5. The custom spread to other cities and states, where the day was marked by parades, patriotic oratory, military displays and fireworks. In present time, games and athletic contests, picnics, patriotic programs and pageants, and community fireworks of pyrotechnic expertise are characteristic of the 4th of July.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
http://www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of Father’s Day

June 16, 2005 / 0 Comments
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HISTORY OF FATHER’S DAY

The celebration of Father’s Day goes back all the way to the beginning, actually to the Garden of Eden when Abel gave his father Adam a razor while his brother Cain gave his father a snake-skin tie. This was the beginning of Cain’s downward slide.

Scholars have debated for ages why Mother’s Day seems to be more honored than Father’s Day. A parallel has been drawn between this phenomenon and that of the difference in popularity between the Irish patron saint and the Italian patron saint. The noted scholar, Father Guido Sarducci, papal legate and gossip columnist for the Vatican has pointed out that for St. Patrick’s Day, we have lots of festivities, lots of green, celebrations and major parades. But for St. Joseph, a very good saint, there is nothing. The only thing he is known for is children’s aspirin. Dr. Les Capable of Stanford University confirmed this research by saying “Ditto”. Professor Illinois Smith, of the Department of Redundancy Department at the University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California said much the same thing by repeating the same thing over and over again many times in a redundant and repetitive fashion.

The holiday was first canonized by Pope Hallmark in 1582 in the Papal Bull “Quando Ipso Facto Volare FTD Que Sera Sera” which translated means “When you care enough to send the very best”. This was confirmed years later in the United States when one of the founding matriarchs, Ma Bell ordained and established both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in an attempt to help bolster the fledgling nation’s telecommunication coffers. It is well known that Mother’s Day generally posts the highest volume of long-distance telephone calls of any single day of the year. It is not as well known that Father’s Day posts the highest volume of long-distance collect calls.

Everyone has had a father, but not everyone can be a father, especially if you are a woman. But there are few challenges in the world that are more rewarding than being a father. It is a special joy and a great honor.

It is noteworthy, as we celebrate Father’s Day, that the Bible refers to the Almighty as Father.

Happy Father’s Day!

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

Children’s children are the crown of old men;
and the glory of children are their fathers. –
Proverbs 17:6

Memorial Day: Why We Fight

May 26, 2005 / 0 Comments
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WHY WE FIGHT

The world is different than it was even a few years ago as we celebrate Memorial Day. We now are fighting a war, and we now remember why we fight. The History Channel recently re-ran the HBO series “Band of Brothers,” the adaptation of the Stephen Ambrose book about a company of men from the landing at Normandy through the end of the World War II.

During WWII my father crossed paths a couple of times with the Company E mentioned in “Band of Brothers”. Once at the Battle of the Bulge and later while liberating the death camp Dachau.

My father’s story is told in part on HBO’s website regarding the episode on the liberation of Dachau at: http://www.hbo.com/band/landing/why_we_fight.html.

His full story is told in pictures at http://www.billpetro.com/johnpetro

He rarely volunteered to me information about the War, but when I did asked, he would answer. He left me pictures taken during the liberation of Dachau. Ironically, during a recent visit to Dachau, when I told the workers a this modern memorial, they all asked me the same question: “Do you have pictures?” I still have these pictures of those who survived, who looked like skeletons. I also have pictures of the skeletons of those who did not survive, of the open boxcars with bodies piled high.

Dachau gate: “Work Makes Free”

My father had seen a lot of action during the war and later was in charge of three P.O.W. camps for German prisoners, but nothing prepared him for what he saw at Dachau. He said that he watched his commanders vomit when they saw the camps. Those who were liberated were like the dead, they could not believe that they were finally being freed.

These gruesome images must never be forgotten. It must never be forgotten what barbarism that man is capable of committing toward fellow men. But some may say, “I don’t want to think about it, surely no one believes that these atrocities were justified, that they’d ever be repeated.” But only two decades ago, an organization asked to use University of California conference grounds property for a meeting. This request was later denied when it was learned that the organization requesting the facilities believed that the Holocaust was a hoax, that it did not really occur. There was also a corresponding outcry that this organizations’ free speech rights were being violated.

A person who remembers the past can be grateful for the freedoms that were purchased at great cost by those who went before them. They can memorialize those who fought and died, they can honor those against whom horrors were committed. A person without this sense of history is a severed person, self-referential, cut off from the past.

On this Memorial Day, the words of George Santayana, Harvard philosopher and poet are most apt:

“Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/johnpetro

History of Memorial Day

May 25, 2005 / 0 Comments
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MEMORIAL DAY

The city of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, an American village on the National Historic Register, claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, as does some 24 other towns in America. But Boalsburg’s claim goes back to a practice at the end of the Civil War. It does have an local museum, and a history that stretches back over two centuries. It’s claim is supported by pointing out, on a large sign near the center of town that:

“The custom of decorating soldiers’ graves was begun here in October, 1864, by Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Myers. Named for David Boal who settled here in 1798. Village laid out in 1808. Boalsburg Tavern built in 1819. Post Office established 1820. First church erected 1827. Home community of three United States ambassadors.”


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of April Fools’ Day

March 30, 2005 / 0 Comments
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APRIL FOOLS’ DAY

April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, is the name given to the custom of playing practical jokes on friends on that day, or sending them on fools errands. The origin of this custom has been much disputed; it is in some way a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on the old New Year’s day, March 25, ended on April 1.

Though April 1 appears to have been anciently observed in Great Britain as a general festival, it was apparently not until the beginning of the 18th century that the making of April fools was a common custom. In Scotland the custom was known as “hunting the gowk”, i.e., the cuckoo, and April fools were “April gowks”, the cuckoo being there, as it is in most lands, a term of derision. In France the person befooled is known as poisson d’avril.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood hysterian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of Good Friday

March 25, 2005 / 0 Comments
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GOOD FRIDAY

Following Pilate’s sentence, Jesus was led away to be crucified. Crucifixion was a form of torture and execution practiced by many of the ancient societies, including Persia, Carthage, India, Scythia, Assyria, and Germanic tribes. The Phoenicians were probably the first to use a transverse cross beam rather than just an upright stake in the ground. From the Phoenicians the Romans adopted this practice as the primary means of execution of rebellious slaves and provincials who were not Roman citizens. During the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66 for example, the Romans crucified 3,600 Jews, many of them of the
aristocracy.

The victim was first scourged with a ‘flagellum’ to weaken them before he was hung on the cross. Near the top of the cross was affixed the ‘titulus’ or inscription identifying the criminal and the cause of his execution. Above Jesus’ cross in Greek, Hebrew (Aramaic), and Latin were printed the words “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews”. The Latin acronym INRI comes from this; “Iesus Nazarethis Rex Iudaeorum”. By the way, Jesus’ middle name was not “H”, as in “Jesus H. Christ”. Rather it comes from a misunderstanding of the letters “IHS”. This is an abbreviation of Jesus in Greek, “IHSOUS”, and should properly be written with a line above the ‘h’ signifying an abbreviation. Death by crucifixion was painful and protracted. It seldom occurred before thirty-six hours, sometimes took as long as nine days, and resulted from hunger and traumatic exposure. If it was decided to hasten the death of the victim, his legs were smashed with a heavy club or hammer. However, Jesus died within just a few hours. The New Testament, rather than dwelling on this painful death, simply recounts that “they crucified him”.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory